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Back to School: Schoolhouse History in Rideau Lakes

Photo: Patterson Bus Line Elgin c. 1955

Can you hear the school bells ringing?

Did you know that at one time, more than 70 one-room and two-room elementary schools (including union schools) dotted the landscape throughout Rideau Lakes in the former townships of Bastard and South Burgess, North Crosby, South Crosby and South Elmsley? It’s true!

Although education was happening among settlers in private residences and churches, it wasn’t until the Common School Act for Upper Canada was passed in 1850 that school sections were created for the administration of rural public schools. A school section (S.S.) was from about 5 to 8 km and administered by a board of three elected trustees. They were responsible for hiring teachers, upkeep and maintenance of the school property and equipment, as well as the finances of the school. Schools that were on the boundary between more than one school section were known as Union School Section (U.S.S.) and there were also Separate School Sections or Roman Catholic School Sections.


Getting to school

At first, students and staff walked to school no matter the weather. According to information from local historian, Diane Haskins, school buses didn’t exist in the townships until 1940. This caused students to become rather ingenious in their modes of transportation. Stories still swirl about a little girl who rode her horse to school daily after which the horse returned home by itself, several miles down the road. The girl walked home by herself in the afternoons. Another tale tells of a student who harnessed his dogs to a sleigh in winter for ease (and company) on the journey to school. Once he arrived there, the dogs would wait around until the end of the day to make the trip back home. Surely these methods of getting to school helped shorten the trip – especially in the cold of winter!

Take a look at just a few of the schoolhouses that helped educate families as the communities of Rideau Lakes took shape.


The Red Brick School

Take a tour! This Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. will be the final open house of Elgin’s Red Brick School marking the 20th anniversary of the Elgin & Area Heritage Society. The Red Brick School is a prime example of the late-19th century campaign to improve public education through building more stimulating learning environments. Note the fine architectural features of the charming school! Be sure to visit the Red Brick School to marvel at the inside of a beautifully preserved heritage classroom from chalkboards to desks, maps and meticulously researched displays that dive into the history of the community. 

Picture of a class from the Red Brick School in Elgin c.1920

Photo: Rideau Lakes Public Library

Red Brick School

Elgin Class



Freeland School, 1912 

The Freeland School located in the former township of Bastard and South Burgess was built in 1857. The Freeland School property was deeded by the Eaton family. The following photograph, dated 1912, was taken on the occasion of Mr. Chipman's return from British Columbia after an absence of 40 years. Mr. Chipman had taught at this school. Learn more about the Historic Settlement of Freeland. In Memoirs of the Bolton Family by Ferris Bolton, 1932, he writes about attending the school in the winter while working on the farm in the summer months. He was able to skate part of the way to school! The Freeland School closed in 1947, having also served as a centre for social events of the Freeland community.

 Freeland School 1912 

Left to right: Ezra Chipman (standing), Myrtle Waffle, Lucile Dowsett, Mrs. Annie Dowsett. 


Philipsville Schools, 1910

Photograph of the Philipsville school in 1910.

Photograph of the Little Red Schoolhouse in Philipsville Ontario c.1910 

Photo: Diane Haskins "My Own Four Walls" originally in Philipsville Lady Tweedsmuir Book


The earlier wooden structure, pictured above, was replaced by the brick building in the following photo.

Philipsville School 1910 

Photo: Diane Haskins "My Own Four Walls" originally loaned by Clela Haskin
Front row: H. Knapp, Clifford McCollum, ? Sawyer, Essie McCollum, Pearl Aimer
Second row: Easton Davison, ? Knapp, ? Burt, ?, Leonard Burt, Ellen Greenham, Jack Greenham, Lottie Carr, Clarence Wood, George Aimer, B. Sawyer, Ben Shire
Third row: Ella Dwyer, Blanche Carr, Aileen Topping, ? Topping, Hester Tackaberry, Blanche Wood, Helen Haskin, Lena Haskin, Eleda Greenham, Allan Haskin, Steve Pier
Fourth row: Merton Denney, teacher Kate Jordon, Morley Willows, Hallie Shire, Madalene Burt, Francis Burt.


California School, 1953

The California School was tied to the community even through name recognition, as the hamlet’s name first appeared in a newspaper article around 1863 in conjunction with a concert put on by school children at Jones Falls. An earlier school was replaced around 1895 with a newer structure, which operated until the early 1960s. Read more about the historic settlement of California. (photo shows the school students and teacher in 1953).

California School 1953California School ,1953 

Newboyne School, 1967

Originally, the Newboyne Public School S.S. #2 Bastard & South Burgess was a frame structure, however it was lost to fire around 1917. The current brick building was built shortly thereafter and was used until it closed in 1967. It was then purchased by the Newboyne Anglican Church and used as a community centre. Read more about the thriving early days of Newboyne. (photo shows the final Grade 8 class to graduate from the school) 

Rideau Lakes has a long tradition of education and schooling – as evidenced by schoolhouse history spanning almost 175 years across the township!

Newboyne Public School 1967Newboyne Public School, 1967

Elgin Continuation School, 1959

The Elgin Continuation School was started in the 1920s and operated as a continuation school until 1960 when Rideau District High School opened; after that date it housed South Crosby students until the present South Crosby Public School opened in 1963.

Elgin SchoolElgin Continuation School 


Source: Our Ontario - Lakes and Islands -Times Past https://images.ourontario.ca/lakesandislands/search

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